Tag Archive: reputation management

“Tact is the ability to tell someone to go to hell in such a way that they look forward to the trip.” – Winston Churchill

Relationships matter, now more than ever.

Tact also counts more than ever, even for those not known for gentile diplomacy.

It’s way too easy to obsess about our digital world with instantaneous global communication in mere nanoseconds, which was unthinkable three decades ago.

These “destructive” technologies have forever changed the world (note Facebook and Google privacy concerns).

Even more destructive is the ability to plunge the world into an unthinkable thermonuclear exchange.

And let’s not forget trying to deflect attention from the ubiquitous, addictive smart phone.

Despite all these seismic shifts in the form of digital ones-and-zeroes, personal relationships are more than ever taking center-stage, particularly in the global political arena.

Think of it as “The Art of the Deal” on steroids.

Not So Warm and Fuzzy

What are the most important public relations of all?

The answers are personal public relations and reputation management.

Do Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin have the best personal PR, let alone Kim Jong Un?

This question seems almost silly, but the ability and willingness of these gents (and at least one Frau) to establish and maintain fragile bromances and romances in our scary digital world are absolutely vital for our survival.

Consider that Trump and Kim (dubbed by The Donald as “Rocket Man”) were bragging about the capability of their nuclear buttons a few months ago, yet they still may or may not meet in Singapore on June 12.

Despite the low expectations for lasting, meaningful success, the prospect of a Trump-Kim summit is far better than a potential nuclear war.

Arm-in-Arm gehen Francois Mitterrand (l) und Helmut Kohl (r)

When it comes to war and peace, bromances and romances matter. The longest sustained peace in Europe has been maintained by the establishment of The European Economic Community (EEC) in 1957, followed by the European Community (EU) in 1993.

If you are scoring at home there has been peace for the most part on the European continent for 73 years and counting. The relationship between the two most influential EU members – Germany and France – has survived and prospered by means of the relationships between Konrad Adenauer and Charles de Gaulle, and then Helmut Kohl and Francois Mitterrand, and now Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron.

As the lone woman in this equation (all due respect is afforded to the UK’s Theresa May), Merkel is rightfully regarded as the most powerful woman on earth – a title she did not seek and obviously does not cherish.

Nonetheless, Merkel has proven she is more than a match for some of the most self-absorbed men on this planet including: Trump, Putin, China’s Xi Jinping and to a lesser extent, Marcon.

Merkel’s relationship to Messrs. Trump and Putin are not warm and fuzzy, but she has been an effective foil. She rolled her eyes at Trump and reportedly insists on speaking German to Putin, while Putin speaks Russian to her – even though they are fluent in their respective languages.

Macron has obviously concluded that Trump is the leader of the world’s largest economy and power. Some have scoffed at the bromance between the two, and questioned what Macron has received in return (e.g., US pulled out the Paris accord and the Iran nuclear deal). Keep in mind that Macron has Trump’s ear, and may be Europe’s closest confidant to POTUS.

Trump’s bromance with China’s president Xi, including a visit to Mar-a-Lago in Florida, is a complicated relationship including strategizing about Kim Jong Un’s nagging North Korea and the question of tariffs and intellectual property (IP) protection. A solid, even though conflicted, relationship between the world’s two largest economic and military powers increases – not decreases – the prospect for world peace and maybe even, harmony.

President Donald Trump talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping, with their wives, first lady Melania Trump and Chinese first lady Peng Liyuan as they pose for photographers before dinner at Mar-a-Lago, Thursday, April 6, 2017, in Palm Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Time will tell whether Almost DailyBrett is correct on this point; hopefully that is the case.

You Can Take Putin Out of the KGB …

But you can’t take the KGB out of Putin.

Russia’s leader will play games, including inviting his black lab Koni to a 2007 summit with canine-phobic Merkel (see earlier Almost DailyBrett blog on this Machiavellian topic). How will Putin exploit perceived Trump weaknesses? How will Trump counter?

And yet these two leaders appear to enjoy each other’s company, at least in front of the cameras.

Will Trump develop the same kind of rapport with Kim Jong Un?

Kim has already kibitzed with Xi and most recently on both sides of the most heavily fortified and dangerous border with South Korea’s Moon Jae-in.  The overriding subject of their historic encounters: the prospect for a summit between Kim and The Donald, regardless of the potential for success.

In our increasingly dangerous world – in which the digital ones and zeroes work for us and hopefully not against us – Almost DailyBrett takes the humble view that talking is far better than fighting.

Bromances and Romances matter.




“I’m sorry if my message got misconstrued, but it really was in the best interest of the young men. Hindsight’s 20-20. I probably should have said it was an interview. Semantics are semantics.” – New USC Football Coach Steve Sarkisian


“Semantics are Semantics”?

How about, to be charitable, telling a big fib?

Sorry Sark, you will never totally restore your reputation for integrity.


Media types and the general public will always have an extra degree of skepticism whenever they interact with you. There is no way to change this inescapable conclusion.

Almost DailyBrett has commented before about Jody Powell’s self-proclaimed, “Right to Lie.”

Powell, former press secretary to President Jimmy Carter, was placed into a lie-or-jeopardize American lives dilemma, when he was asked point-blank in 1980 about possible rescue mission for 52 American diplomats trapped in Iran.

He knew the score. He protected the (ultimately failed) mission. He lied and deceived. He really had no choice.

Larry Speakes, former press secretary to President Ronald Reagan, was told to “knock down” rumors about a 1983 American invasion of Grenada. He did. The GI’s landed the following morning. An internally misled and peeved Speakes was charged with lying.

In both cases, the press secretary must interact with the White House Press Corps on a daily basis. A “no comment” response would be interpreted as tantamount to confirmation. The press secretary does not have the authority, regardless of her or his conscience and upbringing, to jeopardize American lives.


Power lied. Speakes lied without knowing it, and was charged with…lying.

Looking back to this previous weekend, former Washington, now USC Coach Sarkisian could have easily avoided being put into a situation in which he had to tell a big white lie.

Until this past Monday, Sarkisian was the head football coach for the University of Washington. Prior to his arrival in Seattle, he was a high-profile assistant coach for Pete Carroll’s USC Trojans.

And naturally because of his relative success (e.g., never beat Oregon) during his five years with Udub and his USC pedigree, he was a natural for the short list of potential new coaches at Troy.

USC Athletic Director Pat Haden flew this past Sunday to Seattle to interview Sarkisian. Trust me; he was not heading to the Northwest to bask in the freezing weather. Ultimately, the interview went well. There were still “I’s” to dot and “T’s” to cross as Haden returned to SoCal.

Sarkisian still in his Udub head coach capacity had a scheduled Monday morning interview with Seattle KJR (AM-590), the flagship station for Husky football. He knew that he was going to be asked about the swirling rumors that he had been interviewed by Haden for the SC job.

What were his personal public relations and reputation management options (Keep in mind, none of them were perfect)?

Sark’s options were to go ahead with the previously scheduled radio talk and mischaracterize his meeting with Haden as a nice chat, and not an interview. Keep in mind, the majority of the UW Athletic Department administrators and his team was presumably listening to the interview.

The other option was to postpone the interview, thus maintaining his credibility. This option requires POing the media, particularly the chaps at KJR Sports Radio, and starting rumors as to why he was not available.

As we all know now, Sark went forward with the Monday morning interview and his credibility took a huge hit just hours later when USC announced he was Troy’s new head coach.


“I just felt like at the time, nowhere near finalizing the deal, that it wasn’t the right thing to say,” Sarkisian said. “I didn’t either want to put (USC or UW players) in a situation of uncertainty.”

“Nowhere near finalizing the deal?”

Sark, you met with Pat Haden on Sunday, and USC announced your hiring on Monday afternoon. When you are in a hole, stop digging.

In football, there are times when it is best to punt than being stopped short of the first-down markers.

This was a time when Sark personally should have punted. Postpone the interview. Let the rumors fly. Keep your reputation intact. And later, offer an exclusive post-USC hiring interview exclusive for KJR. Do you really think the torqued-off station would decline that opportunity?

They would have jumped at it.

Presidential press secretaries have the right to lie (and this is debatable) to protect American lives. The same latitude does not apply to Semantics-are-Semantics football coaches.







“Isn’t religious intolerance by your company the bottom line in this matter?” was the question posed by KRON-TV’s (San Francisco Channel 4) Ysabel Duron to me as the Director of Corporate Public Relations for LSI Logic. http://www.kron.com/News/ArticleView/tabid/298/smid/1126/ArticleID/3200/reftab/515/t/Ysabel%20Duron/Default.aspx

I looked at Ysabel and secretly wished her a very Merry Xmas and a Happy New Year and responded that the “bottom line is the safety of children and whether it is a good idea to put 250 small children within 200 feet of a semiconductor facility that handles and transports hazardous, corrosive and flammable chemicals on a daily basis.”


My on-camera quote was included in her story that evening as well as a statement by the Muslim Community Association of Santa Clara http://www.mcabayarea.org/ accusing LSI Logic www.lsi.com of blatant religious intolerance against those who practice Islam.

The time period was 1993 to 1998. The World Trade Center stood proudly at the tip of Manhattan, Shanksville was just another town in Western Pennsylvania and the numerals “9-11” sounded like a convenience store chain. And yet passions were still high then even without the vivid mental images of hijacked jetliners hitting skyscrapers, resulting in the deaths of an estimated 3,000 Americans.

What is prompting me to regurgitate this dispute is the massive coverage of the proposed “Ground Zero Mosque” within blocks of the World Trade Center and the emotions that this zoning dispute has unleashed. The opponents of the Cordoba Mosque have been accused on “racism,” “bigotry” and “hatred of Muslims.”

Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer wrote about this response in a recent column: “The intelligentsia is near unanimous that the only possible grounds for opposition is bigotry toward Muslims. This smug attribution of bigotry to two-thirds of the population hinges on the insistence on a complete lack of connection between Islam and radical Islam, a proposition that dovetails perfectly with the Obama administration’s pretense that we are at war with nothing more than ‘violent extremists’ of inscrutable motive and indiscernible belief. Those who reject this as both ridiculous and politically correct (an admitted redundancy) are declared Islamophobes, the ad hominem du jour. “http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/08/26/AR2010082605233.html

Whether you agree or disagree with Krauthammer’s prose, PR representatives should contemplate what they would do to protect the reputation and safeguard the brand of their company or organization that is falsely branded as bigoted, racist or intolerant in a contentious dispute. The Muslim Community Association of Santa Clara said point blank in a news release: “These facts make us wonder: What is the real reason for LSI Logic’s hard-line stance against our community?” http://www.thefreelibrary.com/Muslim+Community+Association+to+Appear+Before+Santa+Clara+Superior…-a020011843

Former Santa Clara Mayor Eddie Souza said: “LSI Logic’s legal actions appear to be based solely on intolerance and stand to burden our city and residents with unnecessary expenses and troublesome lawsuits.” And Herb Schmidt, a Stanford University Lutheran pastor was quoted: “If this (Islamic Center) was a synagogue or a Roman Catholic parochial school, this would not be happening.”


The real reason for our opposition was centered on the fact that a light industrial zone is just that, a light industrial zone intended for manufacturing … not small school children. The Santa Clara City Planning Commission denied the permit twice for the Granada Islamic School, but was overturned twice by the City Council. I will dispense with the entire history, other to note that LSI Logic no longer has a manufacturing facility or any other presence in Santa Clara, but the school is still there.

The charges of racism, bigotry and intolerance hurt and threatened the good name of the company. Our business colleagues were privately very concerned and supportive, but there was no reason for them to be splattered by the same rhetorical mud.

Our strategy was to deflect the intolerance charges and to refuse to engage into a name-calling exchange with the Muslim Community Association. Our beef was with the Santa Clara City Council that was overruling the Planning Commission and putting small school children in potential harm’s way.

We also endeavored to keep this story out of the major national publications (e.g. Wall Street Journal, NY Times, USA Today) or business wires (e.g. AP, Bloomberg, Reuters, MarketWatch), even using the eye-glazing-over term, “zoning dispute” to describe the situation. (If this caper had actually followed 9-11, this strategy would not have succeeded and most likely would have found its way to Al Jazeera http://english.aljazeera.net/)

We were also placed in a tricky PR predicament: If our Santa Clara manufacturing facility was unsafe for children wasn’t it unsafe for other people? And were we through our actions and pronouncements undermining the safety claims of the entire $200 billion-plus semiconductor industry.

In response, we pointed out to reporters that our facility had never been fined, never subjected to an administrative order and that we maintained a very strict regime of controls for the nasty chemicals used to make microchips. Having said that, we dared to question the wisdom of bringing small school children directly across the street from our facility.

If you are scoring at home, it would be very easy to declare that the Muslim Community Association won and LSI Logic lost the battle. If the charges of racism, bigotry and intolerance had permanently adhered themselves to the company’s reputation and brand, we would have lost the war as well.

Everyone has been to more than their fair share of rubber chicken circuit dinners and/or grip-and-grin receptions.

That is you grip the hand of a real or prospective business colleague or a genuine friend, and an authentic or artificial smile comes with it. This time-honored ritual can be traced back in sculpture to the 5th Century BC. Sir Walter Raleigh is credited by some as introducing the modern-day handshake in the service of the British Court during the 16th Century http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Handshake


This ritual is all fine and good, but what happens in those (hopefully) rare instances when you are confronted with actually shaking the hands in a social situation with someone who you despise?

An essential requirement of our jobs as professional communicators is to treat business colleagues with respect that we would wish from them in return. For the most part, we are able to do exactly that. If not, we should be looking for a new line of work. However, there is always that someone with his or her own agenda, who does not have your best interests in mind.

Does that mean that you should go ahead and shake their hand in a social setting? What if you don’t want to? Do you take their hand anyway and complement that action with a plastic smile?

There is no doubt this is the easiest and classiest course of action. Shake that person’s hand and move on. At the least, you avoid the possibility of making a scene and you do not disrupt the proceedings.

Having acknowledged the easy way out, what about your convictions? What about sending a signal that this is not business as usual? What if you simply do not extend your hand and respond with silence? Is that hostile? After all, you have not done or said anything.

I was confronted with this dilemma the other night at a retirement reception for an adored former work colleague. And then, he walked in the door. I will refrain from using names or recounting the history behind my dislike of this person. They are not important in this case.

My strategy at that point was to work my part of the room, and let him work his. Hopefully, we would not come in contact. No such luck. He came right over and started shaking hands with my friends and colleagues and then extended his hand to me. I had to make a two-nanosecond decision.


My decision was to not respond. He quickly realized that I was not going to shake his hand. He said out loud, “Is there something wrong with your hand?” One of my former bosses interceded saying something about me not feeling well. My temperature was up to 98.6 degrees.

My adversary retreated in a huff. My former boss came over and noted that I declined to shake that certain individual’s hand. I acknowledged my decision and quickly pointed out my reasoning. He agreed with my decision, but I am certain not everyone will concur.

This is not the easiest blog to write for obvious reasons. I am not proud of my decision the other night, but I am also not ashamed of it. This was not an easy call, but I wanted to share it with you because many have been confronted with this same question. Do you hold your nose and get it over with or do you make a very uncommon stand and maybe sleep better at night? A grip and grin should be sincere. If not, then what is the purpose?

The capitol building was shaking violently. And yet there are no faults in the immediate vicinity of Sacramento.

Instantly, I picked up the phone and called the State Office of Emergency Services. I inquired about the first reports that “San Francisco is on fire” and “The Bay Bridge is in the water.” I was numb and couldn’t even conceive the horrific nature of the 6.9 on-the-Richter-scale, Loma Prieta Earthquake http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loma_Prieta_Earthquake. It was October 17, 1989 and I was the press secretary to California Governor George Deukmejian http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Deukmejian. This one was on our watch.

Reading and watching the news reports today of the reported 8.8-on-the-Richter-scale earthquake in Chile it is almost impossible to comprehend the magnitude of the quake. The Chile trembler is at least 100 times more powerful than the Loma Prieta Earthquake that rocked Northern California. A seismologist can tell you for sure what is the difference in degree, but rest assured it is huge.


For those in public relations/crisis communications, a major natural disaster requires you to throw away the manual. Yes contact information is incredibly valuable, but you are left to your instincts and your training as a reporter/journalist. Who? What? When? Why? How? You are now a hunter-gatherer, in this case you are searching and clawing for information, particularly correct information. What are the facts? What is the truth on the ground? Is the Bay Bridge really in the water? More importantly, what are you (e.g. State of California) going to do about it?

The first three days after the Earthquake were mainly focused on getting the governor to the site (he was in Frankfurt, Germany when Loma Prieta hit) and coordinating the state’s emergency response. The media was constantly reporting changing figures about where was the epicenter? What was the intensity? How many have been killed and injured? And what are the damage estimates? Fair enough.

And then, the reporting took a more sinister turn.cypressstructure

The biggest issue in Loma Prieta was the collapse of the Cypress Street Viaduct of the “Nasty Nimitz,” Interstate 880 in Oakland, CA http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cypress_Street_Viaduct. A 1.25-mile section of the freeway failed with the top deck crushing cars on the lower deck, killing 41 drivers and passengers. The media wanted to know who was responsible.

Gee, wasn’t it Mother Nature?

Did Governor Deukmejian veto funds for earthquake retrofit? Did the state allocate funds for earthquake retrofit? Did the state actually complete the earthquake retrofit work? Why did the freeway collapse? Why were the Caltrans (California Department of Transportation) engineers wrong? The questions came pouring in. Thankfully we had not vetoed funds. We had actually allocated these resources. Work had been done, but still the freeway collapsed.

Here is my question that is just as relevant today as it was 21 years ago: Why was the media so obsessed with assigning blame in a natural disaster? No one wanted the Cypress Structure to come down, but it did. There are always lessons to be learned after any disaster.

Finally after 10 days of this grueling exercise, a chain-smoking reporter came up to me and in her raspy voice she summed up what happened to the Cypress structure, “(Caca) happens.”reporters

The media has a job to do in providing valuable information to the public about a natural disaster, but don’t be mistaken into thinking we are all in this together. If you are working for a major public official or a major corporation in an affected area, you should understand that the Fourth Estate is more than happy to make this your responsibility. For reporters, the bigger you are, the harder you can fall and we are not talking about bridges and buildings. Effective crisis communications also involves never letting down your guard and being as vigilant about protecting reputations as ever.

In the final analysis, your organization needs to be part of the answer. You need to demonstrate your concern about your own employees, your communities and society as a whole. For the State of California, we worked to tirelessly to demonstrate our response to the earthquake and care for the people who were affected. In fact, we continued to work on our response long after the media grew tired and weary of the story.

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